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NPR Announces 'Word Fugitive' Winner



It's time. We're ready to announce the winner of...





That's right. Last Friday our colleague Melissa Block talked to word maven Barbara Wallraff about her book Word Fugitives, which are gaps in the language that dictionary words have failed to fill. And we proposed this contest for our listeners. We asked you to come with a word to describe this phenomenon.

Unidentified Female: What do you call those times when you think you're going to sneeze and it feels like it's almost there and it's about to happen and you draw a breath in and it just goes away, leaves you disappointed.

SIEGEL: Well, about 2,700 of you rose to the challenge, and Melissa Block is here to tell us about the results. Melissa, 2,700 answers.


Yeah, our inbox was bursting, and before we get to the submissions I want to take care of a little bit of business here. We had a number of emails from listeners who were upset that we hadn't talked about a precursor to Word Fugitives, Sniglets. That was the, remember the popular book series back in the '80s by comedian Rich Hall. Here's an email from Brandon Jameson. He wrote in from Dallas, Texas with his idea for a word fugitive. The act of stealing someone else's idea of inventing a word for a phenomenon yet to be described as a word, sniglifting.

Well, I did in fact ask Barbara Wallraff about Sniglets, and here's her explanation for what the difference is between a sniglet and a word fugitive.

BARBARA WALLRAFF: Strictly speaking, a word fugitive is the opposite of a sniglet, because sniglets are the coined words and the meanings all together. The fugitive is the hole in the language.

BLOCK: Now, I'm not sure that explanation's going to satisfy Rich Hall's fans, but there you go.

NORRIS: Well, let's get onto some results. What was the most popular submission?

BLOCK: Snizzle. It got 328 votes. It's a sneeze that fizzles, but it's not what we picked as the overall winner. Maybe because it was just a little too popular.

SIEGEL: Another category, derivatives of choo or ah-choo.

BLOCK: Yeah, and there were about 424 of those. Here are some of them: mischoo, no choo, not choo, deja choo, pseudachoo, missed oppa-choo-nity, about-choo, and then that also led to a spin off of under-achoo-vers for the people that this happens to. But, of course, we were looking for the phenomenon, not the people who are subject to that phenomenon.

NORRIS: And a whole lot of people it seems had fun playing around with the word gesundheit.

BLOCK: Yeah, about 250 listeners, most frequently they sent in gesundhalt, also gesundheist, gesundflight, gesundmight, gesund-less, gesund-ain't.

SIEGEL: And we might have predicted that in asking for a word to define something much anticipated that doesn't quite happen, some nimble minds would start thinking about interruptions.

BLOCK: Yeah, I call this the interruptus family. They got about 220 votes, sneezus interruptus, sinus interruptus, honkus interruptus. And let's not even get started on the dysfunction category. There were a lot of those submissions too, but we're not going to go there.

SIEGEL: Ok, Melissa. Are we ready to name our winner now?

BLOCK: No, we're not quite ready.


BLOCK: It is interesting. I wanted to point out that we had a listener from Melbourne, Australia write in. Laughlin McFee, who emailed us that in fact the writers Douglas Adams and John Lloyd took this fugitive on already in their book The Deeper Meaning of Liff: The Classic Dictionary of Words for Which No Words Exist.

They take actual place names from road signs and they try to figure out what their meaning has to be. And in that book the sneeze which tickles, but never comes is an amersham, thought to derive from the tube station where the rails always rattle but the train never arrives.

NORRIS: Good stuff, but do we have a winner for this contest?

BLOCK: Ok, we do have a winner Michele, thanks for asking.


BLOCK: The ALL THINGS CONSIDERED staff has voted. I gave them a list of finalists, selected purely according to my whim, and an-tissue-pation...


BLOCK: ...is not the winner. An-tissue-pation, the first runner up.

SIEGEL: This is getting very exciting.

BLOCK: The tension is building.

SIEGEL: That's the first runner up and the winner Melissa...

BLOCK: Well, Randy Minnick of Porterville, California wrote to ask would it be sniff-hanger? And, well, Randy, in fact...



BLOCK: Sniff-hanger is the winner. Submitted by Randy Minnick and also by Joshua Donahue of New London, Connecticut, Julia Shriver of Huntington, West Virginia, and Jason Jarvonen of Las Vegas.

SIEGEL: Well, congratulations to all. And thanks to all 2700 of you who wrote in. Melissa is there a prize?

BLOCK: There is Robert and Michele. Just in time for baseball season ALL THINGS CONSIDERED baseball caps going out to our four winners.

NORRIS: For sneeze tease, snickles, and snuds, plus other would-be word fugitives, visit our website, www.NPR.org.


SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.